Saturday, 21 January 2017

Film Review #94

Passengers (2016)
Director: Morten Tyldum Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne

Certificate: 12A Running Time: 116 Minutes

Tagline: "There is a reason they woke up"

The wonderful world of science fiction has given us many possible solutions to the problematic nature of interstellar travel over the years but generally they tend to fall into one of two categories. Firstly we have faster than light propulsion as featured in various forms in films and shows, notably stuff like Star Trek, and secondly we have cryo-sleep or suspended animation or whatever else you might want to call it, which involves effectively 'freezing' someone for the lengthy duration of a slower than light speed trip. It is the latter that Jon Spaihts, the writer of Passengers, has gone for with his story which was written back in 2007 and features an enormous ship called the Avalon. On board are a number of crew members and 5,000 passengers who are all on a one-way trip to colonise a planet dubbed Homestead II. A trip that is set to take some 120 years.

During this time everyone on board will be in 'hibernation', with the advanced ship's computer handling the long journey. Naturally though, something goes wrong when the Avalon encounters a large meteor shower. It was designed with this in mind but one of the tumbling rocks gets through anyway. The impact appears to have only one consequence - one of the stasis pods is deactivated, rousing its bemused occupant prematurely. That occupant is Jim Preston (Pratt), a mechanical engineer, who is confused to find himself alone on the vast Avalon with 90 years of the voyage still to go. Being placed into hibernation apparently requires specialist equipment that isn't present on the Avalon so going back under isn't an option. Jim is therefore apparently up the proverbial ploppy creek without a paddle.

Happily for him (and us) but not for the person concerned, however, it isn't long before he has some welcome company in the form of writer Aurora Lane (Lawrence). As they grow closer though, the ship begins to show signs of further problems as minor glitches start to give way to more dangerous malfunctions. There is more to the story than that, of course, but that's about as much as I dare to reveal. Indeed, bucking the apparent trend of recent years, even the filmmakers themselves sought to give as little as possible away in the build up to its release. All I will say is that opinion of Passengers appears to be firmly split down the middle, and much of this division is down to differing opinions of a pivotal action taken by Jim. However much viewers may or may not have understood his decision, it still apparently ruined the film for some. Luckily for me, I'm not among them.

Besides the oft-humorous diversion of the ship's android barman Arthur (Sheen), and the brief appearance of deck officer Gus (Fishburne), the only people we spend any time with here are Jim and Aurora, so the casting of them was essential. Others were attached to the roles during its years in 'development hell' but the final choices are just right, and thanks to superb performances, both characters are very likeable. Although the aforementioned actions of Jim may challenge that for some, it's hard to condemn him too harshly given the circumstances. At first he's more confused than anything. His resourceful nature proves helpful but provides few solutions and then he has some fun taking advantage of the vast ship's many fancy amenities, but soon the apparent realism of his bleak new reality sets in.

His loneliness and desperation are keenly portrayed as the lack of human contact begins to take its toll. I'm sure many of us would at least consider doing the same as him eventually, and no doubt our actions would come back to haunt us as you're always sure Jim's will to him. Whether you sympathise with him or not though, it's hard to see past this as his best work yet. Things of course take a much more pleasant turn for him when the unfortunate Aurora turns up, apparently in the same predicament as him, and her warm personality and stunning beauty prove to be a potent mix. It would be hard not to fall for her even on a heavily populated earth, never mind when she's effectively the only (conscious) woman in existence, and Lawrence is just as good in the role as she usually is.

They have great chemistry too, so it's nice to watch them growing closer, from taking in a movie or meal together to engaging in some spontaneous rumpy-pumpy on the breakfast table. No relationship is perfect though, even when there are no alternatives to tempt, and Jim-4-Aurora-4eva inevitably have their problems, even discounting their pesky ship falling apart. Ultimately though, it's likely to be your take on the eventual outcome of Jim's moral dilemma that determines whether you like this film or not. Unless you're one of the buffoons who thought it was going to be an action-packed space adventure like Star Wars/Trek or a ghastly horror film in the vein of Alien or Event Horizon. It's neither of these things. It was never meant to be and was never, as far as I've seen, advertised as such either.

Having said that, it definitely has a rather misleading tagline, and you could even say the same about its title, but that hardly seems enough to assume all that. Passengers has a little action, it has some comedy, and there is a somewhat frantic final act to get the excite-juices flowing, but at its heart its a love story. A bit of a messed up one in many ways, admittedly, but still. It's an absolutely beautiful looking one too, particularly on the big screen, both in terms of its two lead actors as well as the glorious ship itself which provides a stunning backdrop for the story with all its flashy new technology, much of which is likely to be coming our way in the not-too-distant future. If this sounds like the kind of film you would enjoy, I'd recommend giving it a go. I did and I enjoyed it much more than I expected.

It could've been improved though, as with most films. More backstory would've been nice, regarding the main characters as well as the huge ship and the reasons/process behind its mission, and yes, it goes without saying that even the most accommodating viewers will likely agree that Jim is a bit of an idiot and deserves anything that might come his way. Some simply find the whole thing rather tedious, and that's fine, I can understand that, but I personally found the premise appealing and the execution superb. I liked a lot about the film, especially the sense of quiet isolation, and found myself a little jealous of Jim (even before he was sharing his bed). It's the job of the filmmakers to take us to another place for a couple of hours and to make us think just a little during that time and beyond, and Passengers did both for me. You may well not agree but I'm very glad I ignored the bad reviews and the social media cretins bemoaning the lack of gruesome murders.

RKS Score: 8/10



  1. They could have put a lot more into this, but yes I realise it would've blown their budget paying more than a couple of actors! That said, it was wonderful experiencing life aboard a star-ship, and nice to see they thought of things like the asteroid shield. This issue is conveniently not considered in other films/series!

  2. I know what you mean but having more actors in it would kind of ruined the whole point of the story wouldn't it? I enjoyed it much more than I though I would anyway - I saw many reviews on Rotten Tomatoes slating it before we went to see it but was pleasantly surprised :)